I used to hate complaints. When I was young, my first job was as a salad girl, and if someone said I cut the onions too slow, or didn’t clean the lobster out of the shell enough, I took it to heart. I’d go home and cry in the shower as I used lemons to try to scrub off the scent of onions and lobsters (It didn’t work). Whether in my work or in my personal life, I tried to avoid complaints at all costs. I didn’t realize complaints were a call to action.

Then I became a trial attorney and in civil law most of our cases start with complaints. That’s what we call the list of reasons the plaintiff is suing the defendant. And suddenly if I cried every time I saw a complaint, I’d be drowning in tears. Instead, I started to see complaints differently. I saw that they were just the beginning of the case.

Complaints were a reason to act. First we’d get the the complaint, then we would ask questions. Complaints guided discovery. And they were the beginning of a process where we’d explore the complaint and the context, the emotion and the facts around it. The actions we took after the complaints determined the resolution. Because we would win or lose not based on the complaint, but rather based on what we did next. 

You can see complaints differently too. Now I work with leaders, customer experience officers and salespeople to become better advocates for themselves and their businesses. And we often start by looking at complaints differently. In order to win, you can’t avoid complaints. You have to explore them. See them as  a call to action. 

If you’ve got a complaint, whether at home or at work, celebrate it. Ask questions about it. Engage in discovery. Look at it from all angles, and bring curiosity and empathy to the task. When you do, you’ll find that the complaint is an opportunity to make a change. A complaint is the first step to a resolution, and that resolution could be your greatest win yet. 

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